Since the film is so anticipated as both adaptation and buzzy ensemble piece, the poster for August: Osage County would have been an event no matter what it looked like. Directed by TV vet John Wells, who made his feature film debut with The Company Men, this dark comedy marks the first-ever onscreen pairing of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who play Violet and Barbara Watson, the mother and daughter who lead the clan in Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale. All who know the play know the importance of the work’s vast cast, and such is the major selling point here.
Stacked high like an actorly steeple are names both established and up-and-coming: Streep, Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, (the great) Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham, and more. It’s a very tempting mix, and despite the overly genial, all’s-well-that-end’s-well nature of the trailer, it helps to know that Letts has penned the screenplay too, and hopefully hasn’t watered his work down to Hollywoodized dysfunction (lord knows no one needs another The Family Stone). Presumably, Letts’s script also holds the promise of avoiding the trap of multi-character dramedies, which serially fail to develop individual personalities amid the crowd. It’s a grating trend that couldn’t be better visualized here, and let’s hope the packed-house symbolism reflects the film’s ability to overcome it.
Minimalism is almost always the best policy when it comes to movie poster design, and, if they can stomach it, folks should tip their hats to the awards-hungry Weinstein Company here. Granted, this is just a teaser poster, but it rests rather modestly on the inherent power of its cast list, and allows all else to operate in simple, if not entirely subtle, ways. The best aspect of the ad is the varied functionality of the roof. As mentioned, the stacking of the actors’ names and the literal opening of the home emphasizes the sure-to-be-awkward close quarters (what brings the family together is the death of Violet’s husband, Beverly, played by Sam Shepard, who leaves his wife a pill-popping mess and his daughters with unresolved issues). But it also certainly represents the volatile, acid-tongued nature of the material, and the varying conflicts that will, eventually, blow the roof off, as each troubled relative blows his or her top. “Misery loves family,” reads the movie’s blunt tagline, which may sound like an easy pun, but raises the notion that grief, of all sorts, does indeed have an almost spectral-like, moth-to-a-flame relationship with families, and one of the things that made Letts’s play so popular is it seemed to grasp that notion in a way so many other texts have not.
If there’s more to gather from this heavily-rotated one-sheet, it’s the visual isolation of the home, which, from this viewer’s perspective, goes beyond the employment of a universal symbol to underscore the story’s origins as an intimate, stage-bound work, where walls and boundaries keep the drama caged and pressure-cooked. All of that is juxtaposed with the welcoming facade of the home’s Victorian architecture, and the warm color scheme that follows the fast-food-chain philosophy—that reds and yellows inspire comfort, and, in effect, hunger. How hungry are folks for August: Osage County? They’re probably not starving, but appetites are surely whetted.